Sunday, August 24, 2014

Museum Pieces - A Royal Diadem

Photocredit: RMO Leiden
A Royal Diadem

This unique silver diadem was found in 1827 on the head of a mummy. Possibly it belonged to Intef V, a pharaoh of the 17th dynasty, but this is not certain. 
The knot consists of two inlaid lotus flowers. The forehead is adorned with a golden uraeus. This confirms that we are dealing here with a royal diadem. Wearing this protective symbol was in fact a privilege of the Pharaohs. 

Thebes; ca 1647 BC (17th Dynasty)

AO 11a-2

Silver, Gold, Glass and Faience

18,5 x 1,8 x 18 cm

Circlets were a common feature in Egyptian dress, worn by both men and women, regardless of class and at every period. In origin their purpose was purely utilitarian, a device to confine the hair and prevent it from falling over the eyes. A simple band of rope or fabric tied in a knot at the back of the head gave all the protection necessary. Scenes carved on the walls of Old Kingdom tombs depict boatmen holding long staves in their hands and wearing such circlets while engaged in mock combat. The first step in the process of development from the simple to the ornamental was certainly taken, albeit unconsciously, when flowers, usually the blue lotus and its buds, were inserted between the band and the head. Besides being ornamental, the insertion of flowers, and particularly the blue lotus, surrounded the wearer with a fragrant and refreshing aroma, though doubtless of very limited duration in a hot climate. Banqueting scenes regularly show the female participants, whether guests, attendants, or musicians, wearing floral circlets on the crowns of their wigs, sometimes with a fresh supply in reserve placed in a dish nearby. Even in this developed form the circlet still fulfilled its original function of keeping the hair, or the wig, in position. Once the circlet had assumed an ornamental character, its reproduction in more costly and permanent materials as an object of adornment was a natural consequence.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Developments in Qantara

A new rehabilitation project is shaking the dust off ruins that reveal Egypt’s great military history, writes Nevine El-Aref

Two weeks ago, archaeologists and heritage officials applauded when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi gave the go-ahead for the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project (SCCDP).
The project will widen parts of the existing waterway and create a second, parallel canal. The scheme will not only develop Egypt’s economy and provide jobs, but it will also open up new tourist destinations.
The new waterway is ten km south of Qantara, the eastern gateway to Palestine and Syria in ancient times and the starting point of the famous Horus Road, the longest military road in Egypt and the only one to have retained physical evidence of its ancient fortresses and military structures.
Horus Road was a vital commercial and military link between Egypt and Asia and has borne the marching feet of no fewer than 50 armies. From west to east, the pharaohs Thutmose III and Ramses II crossed Sinai with their military forces. From east to west came the Assyrian hordes, the Persian army of Cambyses, Alexander the Great and his mercenaries, Antiochus and the Roman legions, and Arab conquerors led by Amr Ibn Al-As.
“Digging a parallel canal, ten km from one of Egypt’s most important archaeological sites, is certainly good news for archaeology,” Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Al-Damati told the Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that the project is a good opportunity to spruce up a planned development project for archaeological sites located within the vicinity of the Suez Canal, especially at Qantara.
“The chequered history of Qantara is a reminder of military battles from Pharaonic times to the early 1970s,” Al-Damati said.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mummy’s Face: Solving an Ancient Mystery

By Kathleen Tuck

He looks almost Byzantine or Greek, gazing doe-eyed over the viewer’s left shoulder, his mouth forming a slight pout, like a star-struck lover or perhaps a fan of the races witnessing his favorite charioteer losing control of his horses.
“Bearded Man, 170-180 A.D.” from the
Walters Art Museum collection, object #32.6

In reality, he’s the “Bearded Man, 170-180 A.D.,” a Roman-Egyptian whose portrait adorned the sarcophagus sheltering his mummified remains. But the details of who he was and what he was thinking have been lost to time.

But perhaps not for much longer. A microscopic sliver of painted wood could hold the keys to unraveling the first part of this centuries-old mystery. Figuring out what kind of pigment was used (whether it was a natural matter or a synthetic pigment mixed to custom specifications), and the exact materials used to create it, could help scientists unlock his identity.

“Understanding the pigment means better understanding of the provenance of the individual” said Darryl Butt, a Boise State distinguished professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and associate director of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). “Where the pigment came from may connect it to a specific area and maybe even a family.”

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Egyptian mummification started much earlier than previously thought, say researchers

Research results push back origins of mummification in ancient Egypt by 1,500 years.

Researchers from the Universities of York, Macquarie and Oxford have discovered new evidence to suggest that the origins of mummification started in ancient Egypt 1,500 years earlier than previously thought.

Traditional theories on ancient Egyptian mummification suggest that in prehistory -- the Late Neolithic and Predynastic periods between c. 4500 and 3100 B.C. -- bodies were desiccated naturally through the action of the hot, dry desert sand. Scientific evidence for the early use of resins in artificial mummification has, until now, been limited to isolated occurrences during the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 BC). Their use became more apparent during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1600 BC).

But an 11-year study by the York, Macquarie and Oxford team identified the presence of complex embalming agents in linen wrappings from bodies in securely provenanced tombs in one of the earliest recorded ancient Egyptian cemeteries at Mostagedda, in the region of Upper Egypt.

"For over a decade I have been intrigued by early and cryptic reports of the methods of wrapping bodies at the Neolithic cemeteries at Badari and Mostagedda," said Dr Jana Jones of Macquarie University, Sydney. "In 2002, I examined samples of funerary textiles from these sites that had been sent to various museums in the United Kingdom through the 1930s from Egypt. Microscopic analysis with my colleague Mr Ron Oldfield revealed resins were likely to have been used, but I wasn't able to confirm my theories, or their full significance, without tapping into my York colleague's unique knowledge of ancient organic compounds."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

'Evil Eye' Box and Other Ancient Treasures Found in Nile River Cemetery

By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor   |   August 12, 2014

A 2,000-year-old cemetery with several underground tombs has been discovered near the Nile River in Sudan.

Archaeologists excavated several of the underground tombs, finding artifacts such as a silver ring, engraved with an image of a god, and a faience box, decorated with large eyes, which a researcher believes protected against the evil eye.

Credit: © Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project

Villagers discovered the cemetery accidently in 2002 while digging a ditch near the modern-day village of Dangeil, and archaeological excavations have been ongoing since then. The finds were reported recently in a new book.

The cemetery dates back to a time when a kingdom called Kush flourished in Sudan. Based in the ancient city of Meroe (just south of Dangeil) Kush controlled a vast territory; its northern border stretched to Roman-controlled Egypt. At times, it was ruled by a queen.

Although the Kushites built hundreds of pyramids, this particular cemetery contains no structures on the surface; the tombs are underground.

"As of now, we don't know exactly the size of the cemetery," Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, an archaeologist with Sudan's National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), said in an interview with Live Science.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Origins of Hierarchy: How Egyptian Pharaohs Rose to Power

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor   |   August 11, 2014

The rulers of ancient Egypt lived in glorious opulence, decorating themselves with gold and perfumes and taking their treasures with them to the grave.

But how could such a hierarchical, despotic system arise from egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies? The reasons were part technological and part geographical: In a world where agriculture was on the rise and the desert was all-encompassing, the cost of getting out from under the thumb of the pharaoh would have been too high.

"There was basically nowhere else to go," said study author Simon Powers, a postdoctoral researcher in ecology and evolution at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. "That cost of leaving could basically lock individuals into despotism."

From egalitarianism to hierarchy

Ancient Egypt is just one example of a society that transitioned from equality to hierarchy. During the Neolithic Period, often referred to as the Stone Age — which began about 10,000 years ago — agriculture began to replace hunting and gathering as the principal means for obtaining food. At the same time, societies in which everyone had been more or less equal began to schism into classes, with clear leaders emerging. In many cases, these leaders held absolute power.

Many researchers have theorized that agriculture allowed people to hoard food and resources, and that with this power, they could induce others to follow them. But no one had ever convincingly explained how the transition from no leaders to leaders could have occurred, Powers told Live Science. If everyone in hunter-gatherer societies was more or less equal in strength or resources to start, why would they allow an individual to dominate in the first place?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Museum Pieces - Kneeling Amenhotep III as the god Neferhotep

Kneeling Amenhotep III as the god Neferhotep

Photocredit: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Height x width x depth: 13 x 3.8 x 5.3 cm (5 1/8 x 1 1/2 x 2 1/16 in.)

Glazed steatite



1390–1352 B.C.

There is more to this charming statuette of Amenhotep III than meets the eye. The king is wide-eyed, innocent-looking, and decidedly chubby, his bare chest revealing his baby fat. But despite his youthful appearance, Amenhotep III was no child when this statue was created, for it is one of a number of closely related statuettes made in celebration of the king's thirty-year jubilee. Thirty years symbolized a generation, and during the celebration of the jubilee, the king was born again. Amenhotep III would have been at least in his forties at the time, but he appears as a child in token of his spiritual rebirth. The inscription on the back of the statuette calls Amenhotep III, "the son of Isis, who dwells in Edfu," so presumably the figure was placed in the temple of Edfu as an offering to Isis. True to his name, the king kneels to present an offering, now lost, to his mother.

The statuette's distinctive headdress - a round curly wig with uraeus, surmounted by the Double Crown of Upper and Lower Egypt - identifies the ruler with the child god Neferhotep. The crowns were meant to confer stability, while implicit in any child god is the prospect of a new beginning full of promise. The statuette is thus a visual pun, and even the color added to its symbolism. Originally, the figure was glazed a lustrous blue-green, now almost entirely worn away. In ancient Egypt as today, to be green meant to be young; in ancient Egyptian, the words for "green" and "to be young," renput and renpy, had the same root. Additional meaning is provided by the word for glazed material, tjehenet, "dazzling, luminous," which was also applied to sunlight, and by extension, to gold. In this image of himself as the child god Neferhotep, Amenhotep III - who liked to call himself the "dazzling sun-disk of all lands" - found the perfect form of self-expression.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Chronic infection, smoke inhalation, or yet to be discovered causes could explain why ancient men and women had atherosclerosis

Examining the remarkably preserved mummies of five ancient cultures, the Horus mummy research team discovered atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries due to build up of fatty deposits) was present in humans long before we acquired modern lifestyles. In a paper published in this month's edition of Global Heart (the journal of the World Heart Federation) the Horus team describes potential causes that could have led to atherosclerosis in ancient times, the underlying disease process that causes heart attack and stroke and leads to coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty and stenting.

Among the five cultures, the 76 ancient Egyptians studied were wealthy enough to undergo the 70-day mummification process, and might have been expected to have a lifestyle conducive to atherosclerosis. The Egyptians studied were predominately members of the Pharaoh's court and may not have been as active or had as healthy a diet as the common man. However, the four other cultures had no such expensive mummification processes. The dead were left to dry out on their own, either in a desert or a fiercely cold environment. Their abdominal organs were left inside the body and expensive oils, resins and drying measures were not employed. These mummies were common men and women of their time. The 51 Peruvians of 600 to 2,000 years ago were prehistoric, as were the five Native Americans of Utah and Colorado of approximately 1,600 years ago. Neither culture had a written language. The small group of Mongolians studied from 500 years ago lived a primitive nomadic lifestyle in the Gobi Desert. The five Aleutian Islanders of 150 years ago obtained their food from the Bering Sea and its shoreline, hunting and gathering for food without benefit of agriculture or domestic animals. Yet the Hours team found that these people of ancient lifestyles were also plagued by atherosclerosis.